INTRODUCTION OF RUBLE AS SINGLE CURRENCY OF RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE DELAYED

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MOSCOW, March 31, 2004 (RIA Novosti) - The introduction of the ruble as the single currency of the Russia-Belarus Union State will be postponed until 2006, Alexei Kudrin, Russia's finance minister, told journalists.

Previously, the Russian ruble was to be introduced as the single currency of Russia and Belarus on January 1, 2005.

Mr. Kudrin said he discussed a number of issues related cooperation between Russia and Belarus at a meeting last week with representatives of the Belarussian Government. The Belarussian side proposed that the issue of the introduction of the ruble not be raised now.

"My conclusion is that the Belarussian Government will not discuss this issue in the near future. Thus, the timeframe set for introducing the ruble [as a single currency] in 2005 will not be followed," Mr. Kudrin explained.

He said he sent a proposal to Mikhail Fradkov, Russia's prime minister, to take this issue off the agenda of the Cabinet's May session "as it is not ready for discussion and not coordinated with the Belarussian side."

"We still have an opportunity to discuss this issue for 2006," the minister added.

Mr. Kudrin explained that the postponement of the introduction of the ruble was connected with "the Belarussian side's demands of additional compensations. Russia's proposal [on the introduction of the ruble] has been compiled, and we have repeatedly explained our position, so I see no need to mitigate it."

"We are waiting for an answer from Belarus," he continued. "They are not ready yet, but while they are getting ready, we will discuss this issue."

According to him, the bilateral working group on the introduction of the ruble as the single currency of the Russia-Belarus Union State has not been dissolved. This issue will be discussed at a regular session of the Union State's Cabinet of Ministers, as soon as the date for the session is scheduled.

Mr. Kudrin stressed that the postponement of the introduction of the ruble was not a tragedy for Russia. "These are the issues of integration, and its timeframe is being extended, though we are continuing our full-scale work on integration along other lines," he said.

In particular, work is continuing on the customs-tariff policy and the unification of the two states' budget and tax laws. The minister expressed hope that the Belarussian side would make steps in this direction "without relying on additional subsidies from Russia."

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